Self-harm can take a variety of forms, and not all will leave physical marks. Some examples are buying things impulsively, cutting classes/not going to work, and even cancelling medical appointments. Any of these things can be a reaction to stress or anxiety. The physical versions of self-harm are just as damaging, of course, and are also helped with this skill.
The way it works is that when faced with a situation or problem, and facing one of these damaging responses, you pause and list pros and cons. Let me give an example, because it’s a little hard to explain.
Situation: Going to therapy feels like it’ll be worse than four root canals. It is hard work and exhausting and you don’t wanna. (Which is, just to be clear, a completely legit feeling!)
Initial Response: Skip therapy and go shopping. Prepare for therapy by self-harming in a physical way. Skip therapy and go back to bed for the day because depression says sleep instead of do things.
Now, you know that going to therapy is helping, or at least will help, if you stick with it. You know that it’s a self-care requirement if your life will ever have a chance of being better. You know that you need to keep the appointment, but wow, the “do not want” is powerful this time.
First, list the pros of going. Things on the list may be:
- Get help with how I feel today.
- Build a skill to reduce the number of days like today.
- Have someone to vent to because you can’t do that with the people involved in your life when it’s about them.
- If you go, you’ll have accomplished a thing and that feels good.
- If you’re tired after therapy, you can still nap.
Then, list the cons (what happens if you don’t go). That list may look something like this:
- Feel awful, but no help to stop feeling awful.
- Keep things bottled up, ensuring that you’ll keep feeling awful.
- Accomplish nothing and then beat self up about it.
- Lose access to therapist because missing appointments without notice means being dropped from the clinic.
- Have a fee to pay for a late cancellation.
When you look at the list, you have reminders of the benefits of going on to therapy, and the consequences of not going. Some of those consequences could have far-reaching effects. I don’t know about anyone reading this, but having to pay that late cancellation fee has made me drag myself to more than one appointment! I don’t have $50+ to just waste that way!
Now, while this example is simple, the skill itself can be used for a LOT of situations. It can be used to avoid harming yourself, but it can also help you make healthier choices for your life in other areas. In fact, this can be used when deciding if a problem is actually worth focusing on or not, whether to approach someone about a conflict, and even what to have for dinner when you’re feeling the urge to devour a horde of junk food.
The strange part to me, when I was learning it, is that this is something lots of people learn and master as small children. That realization blew my mind. Somehow I hadn’t been taught this properly. I actually was taught a far simpler system.
If I did what I was supposed to, there would be no punishment and might be praise. If I didn’t, there would be punishment, including physical force and lots of being shouted at. That worked great when I was a kid, because fear of the punishment motivated me to do what was expected. As an adult, that failed me, utterly, because I never had an opportunity to face natural consequences or to weigh my decisions with thoughtfulness. Needless to say, my early adult years were rather chaotic because of that lack.
It’s something for parents to keep in mind, even if they’re just learning this skill now. Teach the skills to your children so they don’t have to learn them later. And for everyone who didn’t learn this one, I hope the example helps you begin to practice. This skill is such a life-changer to master, and it’s worth every ounce of effort you put into it!